People - Ancient Near East: Ezra
Ancient Near East
Ezra from Wikipedia
Ezra (Hebrew: עֶזְרָא, Modern Ezra Tiberian ʻEzrâ; Greek: Ἔσδρας; Latin: Esdras) was a Jewish priestly scribe who led about 5,000 Judean exiles living in Babylon to their home city of Jerusalem in 457 BCE. Ezra reconstituted the dispersed Jewish community on the basis of the Torah and with an emphasis on the law. According to the Hebrew Bible, Ezra resolved the identity threat which arose by the intermarriage between Jews and foreigners and provided a definite reading of the Torah. Ezra is highly respected in the Jewish tradition. His knowledge of the Torah is considered to have been equal with Moses. Like Moses, Enoch, and David, Ezra is given the honorific title of "scribe" and is referred to as עזרא הסופר ʻEzrâ ha-Sofer, or "Ezra the scribe" in the Jewish tradition.
Although not mentioned at all in the Qur'an among the Islamic prophets, he is considered as one of the prophets by some Muslim scholars, based on Islamic traditions.
Etymology and meaning
The Hebrew term עֶזְרָא (Ezra) is probably an abbreviation of "Azaryahu" meaning "God helps".[7
Our knowledge of Ezra comes from the Book of Ezra, the Book of Nehemiah, and the apocryphal Book of I Esdras.
According to the genealogy in Ezra 7:1-5, Ezra was the son or descendant of Seraiah, the high priest taken captive by Babylonians, a lineal descendant of Phinehas, the grandson of Aaron.
In the seventh year of the reign of Artaxerxes I Longimanus, Ezra obtained leave to go to Jerusalem and to take with him a company of Israelites. Artaxerxes showed great interest in Ezra's undertaking, granting him his requests, and giving him gifts for the house of God. Ezra assembled a band of approximately 5,000 exiles to go to Jerusalem. They rested on the banks of the Ahava for three days and organized their four-month march across the desert. An ancient synagogue stands partly in ruins at the site in the village of Tedef near the Euphrates East of Aleppo. After observing a day of public fasting and prayer, they left the banks of the river Ahava for Jerusalem. Having rich gifts and treasures in their keeping and being without military escort, they made the due precaution for the safeguarding of the treasures.
After his arrival in Jerusalem, Ezra notices that contrary to the Jewish law, even the Jews of high standing and priests, had intermarried with pagan non-Hebrew women. Ezra took strenuous measures against such marriages and insisted upon the dismissal of such wives. No record exists of Ezra until we find him at the reading of the Law which took place after the rebuilding of the wall of the city by Nehemiah. Ezra then brought the "book of the law of Moses" for the assembly. On the first day of the seventh month (Tishrei), Ezra and his assistants read the Torah aloud to the whole population from the morning until midday. According to the text, a great religious awakening occurred. Ezra read the entire scroll of the Torah to the people, and he, along with other scholars and Levites, explained the meaning of what was being read, so that the people could understand them. These festivities culminated in an enthusiastic and joyous seven-day celebration of the Festival of Sukkot, concluding on the eighth day with the holiday of Shemini Atzeret. On the 24th day, immediately following the holidays, they held a solemn assembly, fasting and confessing their sins and the iniquities of their fathers. Afterwards, they renewed their national covenant to follow the Torah and to observe and fulfill all of the Lord's commandments, laws and decrees.
Besides the books of Ezra and Nehemiah accepted as a canonical part of the Hebrew Bible by Jews and Christians, the book of Esdras also preserves the Greek text of Ezra and a part of Nehemiah. Some Christian groups regard Esdras as canonical, while Judaism rejects it.
The first century Jewish historian, Josephus, preferred I Esdras over the canonical Ezra–Nehemiah and placed Ezra as a contemporary of Xerxes son of Darius, rather than of Artaxerxes.
The apocalyptic fourth book of Ezra (also called the second book of Esdras) is thought by Western scholars to have been written AD 100 probably in Hebrew-Aramaic. It was one of the most important sources for Jewish theology at the end of the 1st century. In this book, Ezra has a seven part prophetic revelation, converses with an angel or God three times and has four visions. Ezra, while in the Babylonian Exile, prophecies the siege of Jerusalem and the destruction of Solomon's Temple. The central theological themes are "the question of theodicy, God's justness in the face of the triumph of the heathens over the pious, the course of world history in terms of the teaching of the four kingdoms, the function of the law, the eschatological judgment, the appearance on Earth of the heavenly Jerusalem, the Messianic Period, at the end of which the Messiah will die, the end of this world and the coming of the next, and the Last Judgment." Ezra restores the law that was destroyed with the burning of the Temple in Jerusalem. He dictates 24 books for the public (i.e. the Hebrew Bible) and another 70 for the wise alone (70 unnamed revelatory works). At the end, he is taken up to heaven like Enoch and Elijah. Ezra is seen as a new Moses in this book. There is also another work, thought to be influenced by this one, known as the Greek Apocalypse of Ezra.
Role in Judaism
Traditionally Judaism credits Ezra with establishing the Great Assembly of scholars and prophets, the forerunner of the Sanhedrin, as the authority on matters of religious law. The Great Assembly is credited with establishing numerous features of contemporary traditional Judaism in something like their present form, including Torah reading, the Amidah, and establishing the feast of Purim.
In Rabbinic traditions, Ezra is metaphorically referred to as the "flowers that appear on the earth" signifying the springtime in the national history of Judaism. Even if the law had not been given to Moses before, Ezra was worthy of being its vehicle. A disciple of Baruch ben Neriah, he favored study of the Law over the reconstruction of the Temple and thus because of his studies, he did not join the first party returning to Jerusalem in the reign of Cyrus. According to another opinion, he did not join the first party so as not to compete, even involuntarily, with Jeshua ben Jozadak for the office of chief priest. According to Bamidbar Rabbah, Ezra was doubtful of the correctness of some words in the Torah and said, "Should Elijah... approve the text, the points will be disregarded; should he disapprove, the doubtful words will be removed from the text".
According to tradition, Ezra was the writer of the Books of Chronicles.
Main article: Uzair
The Qur'an says:
And the Jews say: Ezra is the son of Allah, and the Christians say: The Messiah is the son of Allah. That is their saying with their mouths. They imitate the saying of those who disbelieved of old. Allah's curse on them wherever they are.
—Qur'an, Sura At-Tawba
Muslim scholars such as Mutahhar al-Maqdisi and Djuwayni and notably Ibn Hazm and al-Samaw'al accused Ezra of falsification of the Scriptures. Ezra lived between the times of King Solomon and the time of Zechariah, father of John the Baptist (a period of about eight centuries) .
Ezra is usually identified by Muslim commentators with the name Uzair (Arabic: عزير). Only one Qur'anic verse (quoted above) mentions Ezra or Uzair, by name and accuses Jews therein of hailing him as "the son of God", in a similar fashion as the Christians hail Jesus as the "son of God", citing it to be a blasphemous utterance of which neither Christians nor Jews have any authority, and that in saying so they merely imitate what other peoples of more ancient cultures used to attribute to God, i.e., a progeny. However, the verse does not claim that all Jews believe that Ezra is the son of God, but that certain group said so during a discussion with certain Christians to point out that the logic used to prove that Jesus was the son of God is actually unreliable and can be applied to prove that Ezra was the same. Several sources attribute Uzair's description as the "son of God" to the exaltation of his religious achievements coupled with a misunderstanding of certain Jews with regards to his position as Bene Elohim. However, Jewish scholars argue Judaism holds the idea of any person being God, or a part of God, or a mediator to God, to be heresy, and no branch of Judaism makes Ezra a son of God. It is believed by some Shia Muslims that Ezra was buried at Al-ʻUzair on the banks of the Tigris near Basra, Iraq. The tomb is a pilgrimage site for the local Marsh Arabs.
Historicity and genealogy
Mary Joan Winn Leith in The Oxford History of the Biblical World believes that the historical Ezra's life was enhanced in the scripture and was given a theological buildup, but this does not imply that Ezra did not exist. Gosta W. Ahlstrom argues the inconsistencies of the biblical tradition are insufficient to say that Ezra, with his central position as the 'father of Judaism' in the Jewish tradition, has been a later literary invention. Those who argue against the historicity of Ezra argue that the presentation style of Ezra as a leader and lawgiver resembles that of Moses. There are also similarities between Ezra the priest-scribe (but not high priest) and Nehemiah the secular governor on the one hand and Joshua and Zerubbabel on the other hand. The early 2nd century Jewish author Ben Sira praises Nehemiah, but makes no mention of Ezra.
Scholars are divided over the chronological sequence of the activities of Ezra and Nehemiah. Ezra came to Jerusalem "in the seventh year of Artaxerxes the King". The text does not specify whether the king in the passage refers to Artaxerxes I (465-424 BCE) or to Artaxerxes II (404-359 BCE). Most scholars hold that Ezra lived during the rule of Artaxerxes I, though some have difficulties with this assumption: Nehemiah and Ezra "seem to have no knowledge of each other; their missions do not overlap; and no reflection of Ezra's activity appears in Jerusalem of Nehemiah." These difficulties have led many scholars to assume that Ezra arrived in the seventh year of the rule of Artaxerxes II , i.e. some 50 years after Nehemiah. This assumption would imply that the biblical account is not chronological. The last group of scholars regard "the seventh year" as a scribal error and hold that the two men were contemporaries.
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